Retrocession (international public law/constitutional law) [Ro: retrocedare, Fr: retrocession, Gr: επανεκχώρηση] (See also: Restitution) = the process of voluntarily transferring property from a party currently holding authority to the previous owner. The legal term commonly refers to parts of territory being ceded back from one state to another. This practice was more frequent up until the middle of the 20th century due to territorial disputes and emergence of new states.

In the United States of America, the process of retrocession can be understood as a transfer of jurisdiction from a federal level to states/districts in cases of offenses committed by or against Native American people.

In some former communist countries, along with the term ‘restitution’, ‘retrocession’ refers to process of returning property (land and constructions) seized by state authority during the communist regime for the purpose of nationalisation to the former owners. 

Not to be confused with retrocession (insurance law) (Ro: retrocesiune, Gr: αντασφάλιση) = reinsurance; the practice of insuring an existing insurance contract.

Useful links

Legislation -Third Treaty of San Ildefonso between France and Spain, October 1, 1800 [English] - Convention of Retrocession of the Liaotung peninsula between China and Japan, November 8, 1895 [English] Public Law 93-280 on State Jurisdiction over Offenses Committed by or Against Indians in the Indian Country, United States Congress [English] - Law number 165 of 2013 regarding Measures for finalizing the process of restitution, in nature or equivalent, of real estate taken over abusively during the communist regime in Romania, Romanian Parliament [Romanian]

Organisations and associations - National Authority for Property Restitution [Romania]

Case law   

Retrocession of the Dindings Territory (now knows as Manjung) to Perak from the British Government, 1935 - Supreme Court of Nebraska (United States of America), State v. Goham, 1974 [English]

Retrocession of Hong Kong from the British Government, 1997

Online publications - Casselman, A. B., 1909, The Virginia Portion of the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C.: Records of the Columbia Historical Society, vol. 12, pp. 115–141 [English] - Retrocession and its main hypostases, [English]


Crawford, J.R., 2007, the Creation of States in International Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Lowrie, W., 2016, American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, from the First Session of the First to the Second Session of the Twenty-Second Congress, Inclusive; Commencing March 4, 1789, and Ending March 2, 1833, United States: Forgotten Books

Noyes, J., Dickinson, L. & Janis, M., 2007, International Law Stories, United States: Foundation Press

Wunder, J. R., (editor), 1996, Constitutionalism and Native Americans, 1903-1968, United Kingdom: Routledge


By Daniela Toma